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Food is mentioned more than 1,200 times in sacred Scripture, and eating is something we do 20-30 times each week. It makes sense, then, that we invest a great deal of time, energy and frustration in feeding our children! If the table can be a battleground at your house, here are some ideas to help win the war.
State the truth and take a breath.
Our children are loved by their heavenly Father ferociously. His love, care and protection for them far exceeds ours. The God who designed them wonderfully and perfectly already took into account their changing appetites, vegetable texture issues and personal preferences. He would not let the child he adores starve because of faulty food wiring.
Begin each meal by blessing the food. In making this a habit, we’re calling on Creator God and trusting him to nourish and care for the bodies gathered around the table. When we pray together before meals, we are acknowledging that God is bigger than recommended daily allowances and, as parents, we ask in a special way for him to bring peace and health through the food our kids actually get in their bellies.
Experts say a new food might need to be introduced up to 12 times before a child will accept it. Patience is a virtue, especially where feeding battles are concerned. Children need to touch it, smell it and nibble at it before it becomes familiar enough to eat. Don’t make a big deal about it; it’s just food, and making peace with it early solves a whole host of food trouble down the road. Give them choices and let them explore.
Change it up.
Don’t serve the same thing every day; we all crave variety. Change up the color, shape and flavor of food served at meals. Ideally, put four things on a plate and make sure two of them are familiar favorites. Change-ups help avoid having kids who eat only two or three different things.
Table time is important.
Remember, your kitchen is not a diner. If kids don’t eat what is served, simply put the plate in the fridge until they’re hungry. But kids need to stay at the table and enjoy the conversation even if they aren’t hungry. No other food is offered until the food on their plate is eaten. Sometimes kids just aren’t hungry at mealtime, so whether or not the same plate is eaten later makes clear whether the rejection was from lack of hunger or an attempt to get to you with those attention-grabbing words, “I don’t like it.” Stick to the plate!
Days, not meals.
Look at what your child is eating over the course of a few days and not just a few meals. It’s common for kids to eat much more on some days and very little on others. Watch the average and make sure they are drinking water instead of more filling milk and juice between meals.
Shop and model.
Kids who help shop and prepare meals take ownership and eat better. Kids who see parents eating calmly and healthfully will model that behavior. If your child eats sparsely some days, make sure what they do eat is good quality, nutrient-rich food. If you don’t want your child to eat it, don’t buy it. If the war is over green beans versus Oreos, don’t buy the Oreos.
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic school teacher, speaker, writer and founder of Joyful Words Ministries. Sheri blogs at www.joyfulwords.org.